Capturing the sweet spot: The Wildhearts in the form of their lives
If there was any justice in the world, The Wildhearts would be long-term inductees of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Ginger Wildheart, songwriter extraordinaire, would eclipse Dave Grohl as a household name. Round about now, people would be taking to the streets to scream their hearts out to The Revolution Will be Televised, the band’s 2007 polemic that spits Stiff Little Fingers style fire about nationwide death tolls and broken promises and people holding out for government loans.
But, since this is the real world, and since it’s in the state it’s in, let’s be thankful that The Wildhearts still exist at all – because there have been countless times when we thought they might not. And let’s be a good bit more than thankful for 30 Year Itch (affectionately hash-tagged 30WhyAye by fans), a comprehensive live CV that not only nails them at their ballistic best but serves as a record of their rightful place in British rock history.
Prior to Covid-19, they’d been touring like a self-lubricating steamroller on the back of their thunderous 2019 release Renaissance Men, their first studio outing in a decade, featuring the line-up generally considered ‘classic’ (cemented by the return of Danny McCormack on bass) and received with open arms by die-hards and critics alike. And then they released the Diagnosis mini-album and toured even more. What was clear as the gigs went on (yours truly attended five of them), and what’s made even clearer by every single track here, is that they hadn’t just returned to form – they’d found the sweet spot of their lives.
That’s crystallised in a recording that captures the very essence of the band, Dave Draper’s skilful mixing pointing up the nuances that sometimes go unnoticed during the full-on live experience (which is never less than deafening). On Everlone, for instance, from precocious debut Earth Vs the Wildhearts, guitarist CJ’s vocal harmonies come up sparkling. On a super-pugilistic Suckerpunch, Ginger’s rhythm guitar is given maximum crunch without ever masking Danny’s spiky punk bass. Throughout, Rich Batterby’s drums are brutal, relentless and absolutely spotless. It’s a revelation to notice all of these parts as well as their glorious sum total. While the delirious crowd sound is always audible – those essential woah-ohs on Vanilla Radio are loud and clear – it never drowns out the on-stage precision.
What’s also obvious is how well the new material holds up in the live arena. While bands of a similar vintage might be happy just to stoke the flames of nostalgia, you can feel the pride whenever prime cuts from Renaissance Men are offered. Dislocated rams its fat-fisted riff right into your guts, Ginger roaring its tormented lines as it moves from fury to tenderness and back again. Diagnosis, a scathing critique of our mental health systems, gears up like the Quo on steroids then erupts into its socially conscious verse, swiftly followed by the life-affirming chorus. If you haven’t shrieked ‘I am a human being!’ back to a raging Ginger Wildheart then, frankly, you really haven’t lived. These versions are hyper-powered and utterly uncompromising.
The Wildhearts’ real hallmark has always been their ability to shift from unadulterated, aneurysm-rupturing rage to fizzing pop melody in what seems like a heartbeat. You might describe them as the troubled offspring of Motorhead and Cheap Trick, but that would be to over-simplify the genetic make-up of a band that can’t be easily boxed within genres. With a Wildhearts song you can sometimes feel you’ve run the entire gamut of human emotion in under four minutes – and that effect is heightened tenfold here. On Urge, for instance, from the much-maligned Endless Nameless, we get summer-blown tunefulness one minute and Beastie Boys-gone-bonkers the next. And it’s just sheer genius. That said, maybe it’s the perfect pop-rock of Mazel Tov Cocktail – all the better for a bit of added kick – that’ll most make you want to weep with joy.
For Wildhearts evangelists, 30 Year Itch is a gift: just as you might direct someone who’d never heard of Cheap Trick to the legendary live album At Budokan, you can now point those who’ve never laid ears on The Wildhearts – sadly, there are still far too many – to an album that’s every bit as seminal.
Sure, if there was any justice in the world they’d be on billboards everywhere. But if that was the case, maybe they wouldn’t sound quite like they do here – relevant, urgent and truly necessary.
Get 30 Year Itch over at Round Records
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